Today’s Book Club Friday guest author is Radine Trees Nehring. Radine is the author of the To Die For mysteries. You can find out more about Radine, read the first chapter of each of her books, and talk with her about Real Place Reality at her website. Her books are available from both brick and mortar and online booksellers. Radine will be giving away a copy of A River To Die For to one lucky reader who posts a comment this week. -- AP
REAL PLACE REALITY
by Radine Trees Nehring
Ahhh...the driveway is shoveled, my frigid toes are thawing in fuzzy slippers, and I have thirty minutes all to myself. Think I’ll begin one of the books I just bought. Um, which one...? Oh yes, that one!
Chapter I, Page 1:
“Summer in Benteen County, Kansas, is a season possessed of all the gentle subtlety of an act of war.... A week ago, the thermometer had risen past the unbearable mark...and, in automatic response, the humidity rushed after it–-to a level technically described as obscene.”
How about it? Would you rather read this description from the opening page of J. M. Hayes’ mystery novel, Mad Dog & Englishman in summer--or winter?
Winter, you say? Me, too, because from the very beginning of that novel, I feel heat. (When it’s hot outside, I suggest enjoying something like Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger, where you can experience a white-out blizzard--and frozen body--in northern Minnesota.)
Good mystery writers are master manipulators, creating atmosphere and location inside minds. They take us to places dark and stormy or glaring and sharp, thrill us with spooky ice caves, steaming jungles and worlds that may be far away or charmingly familiar. The more skillful the writer, the more willing we are to believe, share, travel, and enjoy--riding along eagerly with characters and events that become real for at least the space of a novel.
But there is also a real place reality in fiction that goes beyond hot Kansas or cold Minnesota; ice caves or steaming jungles. Novels using real place reality enable us to experience actual locations while we enjoy the entertainment of a mystery being solved there. This type of novel offers a mini-vacation without the expense of travel, (though quite often readers end up wanting to see the described location for themselves.)
When my own fiction writing career was getting under way, I was a relative newcomer to the Ozarks. My husband and I chose Arkansas for our home after spending time thinking about going “back to the land” in several parts of the United States. My love for Arkansas led to an interest in writing about it, and, in a burst of energy, I spent fifteen years selling articles, essays, and poetry about the Ozarks to publications in the United States as well as other countries. After publishing one non-fiction book set here, (DEAR EARTH, A Love Letter from Spring Hollow) I decided to try my hand at writing the type of book I enjoy reading most–-the traditional mystery.
My first effort, A Valley to Die For, (St Kitts Press, 2002) was set in the same country Ozarks area as Dear Earth, an easy location to describe, since I live here. Then, in Music to Die For, I decided to send my protagonist, Carrie McCrite, to another Ozarks spot I love, Ozark Folk Center State Park in Stone County. (Picture Sturbridge Village with an Ozarks setting and Ozarks history, plus a music theater where old-time music can be enjoyed every day the park is open.)
It wasn’t long before I discovered it was not only fun to site books at Arkansas tourist destinations, it was good business. When people ask “Do you have to get permission to use a real place as a book setting?” I report that I do, indeed, get written permission as a courtesy. However, that’s never difficult because the people in charge of such places are often smart enough to realize--as I now have--that an adventure story set in their location is excellent advertising, bringing tourists to see the place where it all happened. Settings in my novels are real enough that, at signings, I give actual tourist brochures and location maps to everyone buying one of my To Die For novels.
Do I really need to tell you I enjoy research? And, not only are people at my various book settings eager to be research assistants, they’re often caught up in the magic of the forming story. They leap into the idea with me, acting out possible plot twists and saying something like: “she could...” or, “what if....” We have a very good time.
As a mystery reader, I’m excited when I find a new author who takes me into a real place, enhancing it with an adventure puzzle capable of holding my attention. As a writer, I love telling stories set in real places I have chosen to visit, absorb, and share with readers.
People frequently ask, "How do you decide on plots to fit your locations?"
Once a location has caught my interest and imagination, the plot rises organically out of the area's history and circumstances present-day. For example, the plot in A Treasure to Die For, set in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, is based on Hot Springs' checkered past as both a spa location and "Sin City." Ripe for mystery-making? You bet!
This novel had a terrific two-day launch party in the lobby of the historic Fordyce Bath House, where much of the adventure and menace in the story takes place. The Fordyce is now the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center and Museum. Tourists who purchase my book, A Treasure to Die For, in the Fordyce Gift Shop, sometimes take time to write and tell me what fun it was to follow the plot in a real location.
This same pattern occurs in all my stories. In A River to Die For, Carrie and Henry travel to Buffalo National River (another Arkansas National Park) where the looting of archeological treasures dating back as much as 10,000 years is taking place present-day. What a plot opportunity!
Journey to Die For (a May, 2010 release by Wolfmont Press) visits the historic Arkansas River town of Van Buren, where a steamboat said to hold a safe full of silver coins was sunk during the Civil War. Carrie and Henry ride the historic Arkansas and Missouri Excursion Train on a pleasure trip to Van Buren, and end up in a tangle of mystery related to long-ago events.
As a reader, I’m always glad when an author uses her or his mind and powers of observation to describe a place so realistically that I’m there. As an author, I simply write about wonderful places as they really are!
And hope you'll join me there.
Thanks for joining us today, Radine! I know I love books set in real places. What about the rest of you? Have you ever read a book and realized you recognized the locale? Let’s hear from you. Everyone who posts a comment this week is entered into a drawing to win a copy of A River To Die For by today’s guest author. -- AP